By Amy Lin
Cardinal Studios, a student group dedicated to making short films, has been hard at work, and in the last month they have produced two works: “Psychobabble” — a lighthearted web series — and “Cardboard Therapy” — a short film about the importance of standing up for yourself.
On Saturday, Cardinal Studios posted the second episode of its ongoing mini web series, “Psychobabble,” about an eccentric psychology lab team about to lose their funding for previous unethical ventures — online. The series will include a total of five episodes, each lasting about six minutes.
The team’s last-ditch attempt to save themselves is to carbon-copy the famous Stanford Prison Experiment with a single difference: the test subjects will act as if they are in space.
Despite the show’s bizarre premise, it is actually a workplace comedy styled after shows like “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation.” The story is told through building the relationships between various members of the psychology lab. From the one quiet kid whose name no one knows to the girl obsessed with satanic rituals, the psychology lab team is a cringe comedy powder keg, and their professor Victor Popov is ready to explode. His accent alone is enough to send you flying back eight years in time to when your younger sibling forced you to watch “Despicable Me” with them.
While special effects and fancy camerawork were minimal in the show’s production, this was not detrimental to the humor and style of the piece.
Premiered late May, “Cardboard Therapy” is a short film directed and written by Sonia Gonzalez about Edith, a teenage girl who loves to read.
One day, Edith stumbles upon a magical cardboard box the size of a large man. However, its interior is the size of a small room — much like the tents occupied by spectators at the Quidditch World Cup in J.K. Rowling’s illustrious “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.” Edith fills this space with books and a variety of decorations and gets comfortable. But after she gives a talkative friend some good advice, people start to line up outside her box and ask for therapy sessions, taking over and disturbing the space Edith created for herself. They refuse to leave, and Edith exhausts herself listening to others. When her mother walks in for a session, Edith realizes that taking care of herself is more important than pleasing others, and destroys the cardboard box.
Despite presenting a simple plot, Gonzalez’s attention to detail keeps the audience entertained. The montage of Edith decorating the cardboard room is composed of a variety of smooth and well-planned camera pans. The film convinced me that somehow sifting through a dumpster could be a fun and productive experience. The montage ends with a beautiful camera pan across the room, now filled with low-cost but oddly fascinating items, making it easy for watchers to forget the fact that the exterior of the cardboard box is no larger than Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In only 17 minutes, Gonzalez portrays an internal conflict that many young people, including herself, hide: When expectations are piled onto Edith beyond her control, it becomes increasingly harder for her to say no to others. She is quick to point fingers at others for putting unwanted pressure on her, when really it is her fault for not prioritizing herself. Gonzalez describes this idea as a “give and take.” In the real world, this balance is constantly being disturbed by many complicated variables, but Gonzalez was able to simplify it into a digestible, perceivable story.
Edith’s relationship with her mother is a more subtle, but equally compelling, component of her narrative arc. In pop culture, films are often about riveting adventures that parents play no part in. Other times, parents are antagonized, portrayed as sometimes-needy obstacles for the main character seeking freedom. But Gonzalez does a fantastic job of humanizing Edith’s mother, reminding us that the reality is that parents are also people growing alongside us, and that a solid relationship with our parents can be a source of comfort and answers.
Creating meaningful content in this day and age has become like walking along a tightrope. On one side, a pit of eye-rolling cliches and predictable story tropes. On the other, a dark pit of emotional angst and unorganized venting. In spite of low resources, Gonzalez does a commendable job balancing on this tightrope, showing the audience a rarely-discussed but honest perspective on a struggle a lot of young people go through.
Contact Amy Lin at amyclin9 ‘at’ gmail.com.